There is more to the militant bank robberies in the Valley than meets the eye
5 May 2017, 15:08 IST

There is more to the militant bank robberies in the Valley than meets the eye

On 2 May, five policemen and two bank security guards were killed in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district when a group of armed militants attacked a cash van of the J&K Bank and snatched service rifles from the policemen.

But in a case of tough luck, they never managed to loot any cash as the van was heading towards the Kulgam district headquarters after unloading cash at a branch in Nehama village.

This incident was followed by the three more successive bank robberies. In the first, gunmen barged into a bank in Kulgam district and took Rs 65,000 from a branch of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank. In the second, three suspected militants stole around Rs 5 lakh from a branch of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank at Waibug. Hours later, the militants targeted a branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank at Nehama and looted Rs 1.33 lakh.

A new trend

The robberies have come as a new trend in the already fast changing nature of the Kashmir militancy. However, this is a trend that both the security experts and the Kashmir observers have struggled to explain simply because in the 30 years of the militancy in the state, militants have rarely robbed banks.

What the successive robberies do reveal is a chronic shortage of funds for militant activities, prompting some security officials to speculate about a possible break the funding from Pakistan.

“The militant code for funding are the Arabic words ‘Faloos’ and ‘Mashahir’, which mean money and honorarium. And they get the ‘Faloos’ every month. It is very modest - each militant gets Rs 5,000-7000. And it is not a big deal,” said a police officer. “So it is difficult to believe that the fund crunch could be the motivation behind these robberies”.

Light-fingered Lashkar?

A statement issued by the police blamed the robberies on the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Arif Dar alias Rehan alias Arif Manager of Lelhar village of Kakapora in Pulwama district. Dar had earlier been involved in several robberies in central Kashmir. The video of one such looting, where foreign militant Abu Ali accompanied him, had gone viral. Ali was later killed in an encounter at Handoora.

Lashkar’s involvement in the robberies has prompted some security experts to connect the development to the ongoing strained relations between the jihadist outfit and the Pakistan government. Islamabad has already put Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed and four of his associates under detention.

Does this mean Pakistan might have stopped funding to the organisation, hence the crunch? “It is all in the realm of speculation. Nothing can be said with certainty,” a police officer said.

The speculation

But then Lashkar has far fewer militants in South Kashmir than the Hizbul Mujahideen. From a little over 15 militants in 2014, the number of militants in South Kashmir has climbed to 104 and a predominant majority of them belongs to Hizbul.

In the absence of any corroborative evidence, there are many explanations doing the rounds. One, of course, is the suspected halt in Pakistan funding. Some would trace it to the outcome of the demonetisation – albeit the explanation has little credence now considering it happened last year and its fallout has already played out.

Second, is the possible attempt by a splinter militant group to operate independently of Pakistan. Early in April, a group of masked militants at Kareemabad had declared to a group of people that their fight was not for any nation but for “Islam and Shariah”. They had also warned people against waving Pakistani flags during militant funerals and instead got the people to shout slogans in favour of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan “as it was fighting to establish Islamic system in Pakista

Some of the explanations offered: demonetisation and a suspected halt in funding from Pakistan

“Our fight is not for any organisation or nation but for Islam. Tomorrow we have to go to India also and we will have to implement system of Islam there. There is no Islamic system in Pakistan and we have to implement Islamic system there also,” the commander of the group told the people.

“And, this Pakistan flag, don’t fly it. Listen O my youth carefully, this is about Shariah and martyrdom. We want Shariah. Pakistani flag doesn’t have Kalimah (Islamic testimony of Allah’s oneness and Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood) inscribed on it”.

However, the following day, Pakistan-based United Jihad Council issued a statement in which it warned these militants of “dire consequences” for opposing Pakistan and its flag.

“Opposing Pakistani nation and flag and supporting Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan reflects the intentions of the group of gunmen masquerading as Mujahideen at Naseer’s grave,” the UJC spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain said. “These gunmen are creating confusion between militants and people”.

A sense of déjà vu

This state of affairs has triggered a sense of déjà vu in the Valley. Many people surmise that the anti-Pakistan rhetoric from the militants has more to it than meets the eye.

“There are two ways to look at it. One, a part of militancy has taken on an Islamist colour and is willing to strike on its own. Hence the need for funds. But then it is not possible to survive in Kashmir by taking on both India and Pakistan. No militant or political organisation has been able to do it in Kashmir,” said a political analyst not willing to identify himself because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“Or else, we are seeing the birth of a new counter-insurgency in Kashmir as UJC has pointed out. It is very unusual for a militant group to speak against Pakistan”.

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